With Secondo, season 3’s third course, the narrative wheels really start turning with purpose. The first two episodes reconxtualised the two leads following Mizumono. By the end of Secondo, the path to climactic confrontation has been made clear.
In Florence, Bedelia comes to understand that Hannibal is deliberately drawing knowing eyes to him in an effort to force a confrontation with Will, motivated by Hannibal’s own desire for resolution to their relationship, using the concept of love in relation to his feelings for Will. Meanwhile, Will travels to Lithuania and begins to uncover the origins of the cannibal and forms an alliance with Chiyo, a young woman with an ambiguous connection to Hannibal. She’s introduced to us shooting pheasants, immediately suggesting she is a possible threat. In Palermo, Jack follows in Will’s footsteps and finds some common ground with Inspector Pazzi. We learn that he is not on the hunt for Hannibal, but for Will instead, perhaps out of concern and a sense of responsibility given past events. By the end of the episode, we are presented with three pairs of characters whose motivations are in opposition. There is also some enigma regarding the true motivations and intentions within each pairing, foreshadowing later conflict and intrigue. With betrayal, forgiveness and love reinforced as key concepts in both the initial and final scenes between Hannibal and Bedelia, we are being prompted to expect these to be important emotional drivers in subsequent episodes.
What interested me particularly in this episode is the reinforcement of the importance of mythology as a theme this season. Cast your minds back to Antipasto and no doubt you will remember the conversation between Gideon and Hannibal regarding fairy tales and the knowing use of Hannibal’s line “Once upon a time” before a cut to Hannibal and Bedelia cutting impressive rug in a lavish Florentine ballroom. In Secondo, there are repeated references to storytelling; Chiyo says that “All sorrows can be borne if you put them into a story”; a reference to how Hannibal has told her the story of what happened to Mischa and how he came to be. The line perhaps suggests that Hannibal has mythologised his own past as a coping mechanism for the horrors of Mischa’s death. Will draws attention to the status of Hannibal as a storyteller and as an unreliable narrator: “He created a story out of events that only he witnessed.”
These ideas about framing this defining event in Lecter’s youth as a tale within the wider narrative allows some reflexivity regarding the presentation of the Hannibal narrative more broadly as heightened and Expressionist. The previous episodes have spent time establishing the idea of Hannibal as both God and The Devil; how much more mythological status could one character be imbued with? The idea that Will sees Hannibal as a Godlike creator is made more solid in Secondo by Pazzi in conversation with Jack.
However, other mythological influences are present in this episode too; Will encounters the locked, overgrown gates of Lecter’s Lithuanian estate early on. Castle Lecter is revealed as a dilapidated and near abandoned relic of past glory perched on high ground. Both the generic horror presentation of this setting and the Eastern European location prompt associations with Dracula and vampire mythology. This is not an unconsidered association; vampires and cannibals both consume human victims. The connection with one of the most iconic vampires elevates and reinforces our understanding of the threat that Lecter presents; he comes from a place commonly associated with superstition and formidable, devilish supernatural threat. He has longevity, and like Dracula, has moved away from his home and is bringing death to unwary victims in apparently more enlightened settings.
Later in the episode, Pazzi mentions the “garlands of garlic” used by superstitious locals to ward off evil. This reference to a specific and iconic part of vampire mythology further reinforces the heightening of Hannibal’s status as The Big Bad. In Secondo, Pazzi repeats Lecter’s Italian nom de plume; ‘Il Monstro’ – The Monster; not a monster but THE Monster.
A crucial facet of this mythologising of Hannibal, interestingly, is the withholding of information. Both Will and Bedelia attempt to gain some appreciation of the factual events which were crucial in the metamorphosis of the young Lecter. However, we are not shown a flashback to illustrate these events, and the full horrors are implied at best. At first, it appears a full explanation would have too clearly humanised Hannibal’s subsequent actions and created sympathy which is out of keeping with his persistent representation as monster and fallen angel. This ambiguity keeps our understanding of him with those associations. As the episode progresses, it becomes apparent that the backstory that we are not hearing from Hannibal and from Chiyo are, in fact, two very different stories. In the Hannibal/Bedelia version, he apparently has confessed to of his consumption of his own sister, whilst Chiyo seems to believe that Mischa was a victim of another cannibal.
Part of the backstory we are given, though in both versions, is Hannibal’s alienation from his homestead. Hannibal says himself that he can never go home. Chiyo reinforces that it’s a dangerous place for Lecter; “There are places on these grounds he cannot safely go.” Why exactly this is the case remains deliberately and frustratingly ambiguous. I hope such a set-up is paid off later in the season.
Other key moments in this episode feature an imagined conversation back in Hannibal’s office between the doctor and his patient. Shot through cut glass, the refracted images serve as a nice visual metaphor of the plurality of views of both characters dependent on different points of view. Later, it appears that Will is hunting Hannibal not out of a need for retribution, but instead for possible reconciliation. Will tells Chiyo that he knows himself best when he’s with Hannibal. The search for Hannibal may also be Will’s search for himself. In the latter moments of the episode, Will displays his second corpse – Mischa’s alleged murderer who’s been imprisoned in Lecter vault – in a way which primitively mimics Hannibal’s own artistic presentation.
This firefly man, like the Broken Heart, is a beacon, a message of love and perhaps a request for forgiveness from Will. Hannibal and Bedelia both acknowledge that Hannibal can only truly come to forgive Will’s betrayal in the same way that he forgave Mischa for hers – by eating him.
Check back with us next week for a review of episode four – Apertivo. Thursday 26th June, NBC, 10/9c in the US or Wednesday 1st July, Sky Living at 10pm in the UK.